CD A0193: The Belfast Years 1992 - 2002

The Belfast Years 1992 - 2002
Janet Harbison and The Irish Harp Orchestra

CD Cover: The Belfast Years 1992 - 2002 by Janet Harbison and The Irish Harp Orchestra The Irish Harp Orchestra - 'The Belfast Years 1992-2002' – a new compilation from Carillon (1994), Feasting with Carolan (1995), Bright New Morning (1996), Colmcille (1997), & Walk in Belfast (1999) - taking 16 of the favourites from these recordings - An Ideal introduction to Janet Harbison & The Irish Harp Orchestra.

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Track Listing & Audio Samples

01 Brian Borou's Set (Trad.) 4.31
02 Flower of Sweet Strabane (Trad.)
03 Walk in Belfast (Harbison)
04 Bright New Morning (Harbison)
05 Earth Water Wind Fire (Harbison)
06 Raggle Taggle Gypsy (Trad.)
07 The Londonderry Air / Danny Boy (Trad.)
08 Carillon (Harbison)
09 Planxty Johnston (Carolan)
10 Seely Kelly (Carolan)
11 Edward Corcoran (Carolan)
12 Carolan's Concerto (Harbison)
13 Cantata Domino (Harbison) 5.46
14 Journey into Exile (Harbison) 2.14
15 The Derry Lament (Harbison) 5.16
16 Laudate Dominum (Harbison) 3.11


Album Information

Instruments: Irish Harp Orchestra
Genre: Traditional / Contemporary
Format: CD
Our Ref: A0193
Label: Irish Harp Centre
Year: 2007
Origin: EU

CD Notes & Credits

Photograph of Janet Harbison
Janet Harbison
Photopgraph of Terence Blackburn
Terence Blackburn
Photograph of Michael Magee
Michael Magee
Photograph of Patrick Davey
Patrick Davey


In 1986, Janet Harbison was issued the challenge to ‘teach the children of Northern Ireland to play the harp’ and reclaim their heritage! In May 1988, the results of her work were presented in a concert in the Ulster Hall which was both opening the Belfast Lord Mayor’s Festival of that year, and the closing event in the Linen Hall Library’s Bicentennial Festival program. The concert featured 22 of her students; ten of which impersonated the ten harpers at the 1792 Belfast Harpers’ Assembly in a ‘recreation of the Assembly’ in the first half of the programme. The second half was a full orchestra presentation of a specially arranged programme of music from the Assembly which was notated and published by Edward Bunting in 1796. The concert was presented by renowned BBC presenter Sean Rafferty; conducted by symphony orchestra conductor Dr Havelock Nelson; and designed, scripted, arranged, trained and rehearsed by Janet Harbison! The concert was a resounding success and its recording by BBC, which was made into two radio programmes produced by Jim Sheridan, brought further acclaim. The orchestra was born! The formal launch took place 4 years later at the 1992 Belfast World Harp Festival celebrating the bicentenary of the Harpers’ Assembly itself which involved over 40 of the world’s top artistes from all 5 continents. The opening concert of the Belfast World Harp Festival 1992 featured the Belfast Harp Orchestra with The Chieftains and the closing concert with the Orchestra again and Alain Stivel. Almost immediately, the orchestra went on tour with the Chieftains featuring at the National Concert Hall, Dublin and the Royal Festival Hall in London where The Celtic Harp album was recorded. This won the top Grammy Award for folk music the following year. 2 tours later and concerts performed included New York’s Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall and at Washington’s Kennedy Centre, the future of the orchestra (which was originally intended only to last the bicentennial year) was established.

For 10 years, they performed at the cutting edge of the arts world in Northern Ireland, featuring at all the important international events (including the opening of Belfast’s new concert and conference centre, the Waterfront Hall) royal and presidential visits. They also toured extensively in the UK performing in top venues including the Birmingham Symphony Hall and the Barbican Centre; in Europe performing in the Munich and Kolo Philharmonic Halls, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and at international multi-cultural and harp festivals as guests of the EU and different European governments; and in the USA at the most significant Irish festivals including the Milwaukee Irish Fest. Janet Harbison and her Orchestra also received a number of prestigious awards in recognition for their work toward peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The harp presented a very special opportunity since it belonged equally to the cultural traditions of both communities in the North (it was established as the emblem of Ireland by the English King Henry VIII, and was the emblem of the state’s (British) police force in the province, as well as being the emblem of northern Nationalism and the Republic of Ireland). The orchestra’s membership embraced young people from both political traditions and served to teach them more about their own heritage and accommodation of the other. Much of the music performed was politically sensitive to one or other community but Harbison’s very consciously balanced arrangements and sensitive presentation enabled it to be accessible to everybody who celebrated their own music and learned about the other. Many of the orchestra’s members are now celebrated soloists (including Michael Rooney and Grainne Hambly) who tour extensively throughout the world representing the best of Irish musicianship and carrying the heritage of Ireland’s ancient harpers to the world at large and Ireland’s future generations of players.

From the Irish word 'cláirseóiri' meaning harpers, this was a 5 member chamber group from the Orchestra operative in 1994 and 95. The members were Janet Harbison (Harp, harpsichord and vocals); Patrick Davey (Uilleann Pipes, Flute, Whistle, Bodhran), Michael Rooney (Harp, Flute and Vocals); Grainne Hambly (Harp, Concertina and vocals) and Suzanne McAlindon (Harp and Dance).

Born in Dublin in 1955 into a musical family of accomplished performers and teachers for at least 3 generations. Early formal study was at the Dublin College of Music in Piano and Organ with Mary Ellison, Marie Jones and Sydney Grieg. Her harp training started from age 12 with Mrs Máirín Féirtéir (the tutor of Ireland’s most renowned harp icons of the 1950’s and‘60s) with whom she studied for four years after which her rise as a performing harper was rapid. Within the next years, Janet had won every national harp competition (including the All-Ireland Championships, the Feis Ceol, and the Oireachtas) and a number of prestigious international competitions including the Isle of Man Millennium Prize (1978) and the Festival Internationale de l’Harpe Celtique (1979). After an Honours Moderatorship and Master’s Degree from Trinity College Dublin, and a number of world-wide concert tours (particularly with Cornhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, Ireland’s national organisation for traditional music), Janet began a new journey working toward peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. In 1984, she ‘was awarded a two year research fellowship at the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s University, Belfast working towards a doctorate in the music and socio-political background of the Belfast Harpers Assembly of 1792. In 1986, she embarked on 16 years working in the cultural education environment in Northern Ireland; eight years as Curator of Music with the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum facilitating ‘Education toward Mutual Understanding’ (essentially seeking peace and reconciliation through music), then as CEO of the Harp Foundation (Ireland) where the harp, which had almost totally disappeared from the region, was used as the central teaching tool for cultural education, recognition and integration in Northern Ireland. She established many harp schools all over the region, all of which are still flourishing and now managed and directed by former students. Also during her time in Northern Ireland, Janet initiated and directed numerous high profile events (including the Belfast World Harp Festival 1992, a major national archive project representing the state of harping in Ireland in the 20th century, and a conference dealing with the topic of the use of music in conflict and reconciliation in Northern Ireland). She also founded and directed the Belfast Harp Orchestra, a world touring stage production featuring up to 24 harpers, musicians and dancers from both communities in the province. Within their ten years of operation, they won numerous awards and accolades for their music with three best-selling CDs (including one with the Chieftains that won a Grammy Award in 1993). Other collaborations and recordings involved internationally renowned flautist James Galway and singer Brian Kennedy. Janet has received recognition and awards for her work including the BBC, the BPW (the Woman of the Year Award), the Flax Trust, and the University of Ulster (with an honorary doctorate, 1999). In 2002, Janet moved back to her family roots in county Limerick in Ireland’s south-west, where, with musician and theologian husband Malcolm Gullis, she established and continues to direct the Irish Harp College which trains new generations of harpers in the Irish tradition, ensuring its vibrance and validity in the 21st century.



To all the wonderful young harpers of the Belfast Harp Orchestra over the years, our parents and committee members, our star gallery of guesting soloists, and all our friends, neighbours and countrymen who supported, advised, helped, encouraged, cajoled, fed and housed us during rehearsals, came to our concerts, ferried and chauffeured, carried harps, hoiked equipment, stitched, cooked, ironed, polished and a whole lot more, a BIG THANK-YOU from Janet. For the full story of the orchestra with a memoir of members and history, visit

To Patrick Dalgety and Debra Salem for sound engineering and recording the Carillon, Feasting with Carolan, Colmcille and some of the Christmas Collection albums, to Paul Mulligan for the Christmas Collection album and the mastering of This ‘The Belfast Years’, to Paul Hyde of Davis Printers for the artwork and Bruno of Open Ear Productions for completing the production process - a girl’s eternal thanks for all your expertise.

All music composed/arranged by Janet Harbison

Compilation from the albums:


Feasting with Carolan


A Christmas Collection